After just one year in office, Kampala had started looking like a real city. Impressed with what Jennifer had done, President Museveni declared, on Women’s Day in 2012, that if he had 1,000 Jennifers, Uganda would be a very fine country, indeed.
By Kalungi Kabuye
It might have passed by some people, but December 2019 marked one year since the first Executive Director of KCCA, Jennifer Semakula Musisi, resigned from her job.
Jennifer never saw eye to eye with Erias Lukwago
She wasn't a politician, so we can't use the cliché that ‘a year is a long time in politics', yet it was because of politics that she gave up her job.
History can be a tough and unforgiving judge, but very few Ugandans have had as much impact on the affairs of this country as Jennifer did. First, she preferred to be referred to as Jennifer; not ED, and not Mrs. Musisi; just plain Jennifer (many called her Aunty Jenny).
Jennifer Musisi ED KCCA 2011-2018
But that was as laid back as she would go because she was one tough cookie who was determined to the job she was appointed to do and did not suffer fools easily.
Jennifer became ED of KCCA in April 2011 and professed how she would serve just one term, and let others contribute to the development of the city.
The battle Jennifer failed to win: appearing with Sarah Kizito at Parliament to try and resolve the Centenary Park row
Eight years after Jennifer took over Kampala, it is easy to forget what the city was like than. City Hall, the seat of KCCA, was representative of the state of the city. When you got to the reception, what struck you first was the smell from the building's toilets.
Management was so bad that they couldn't clean the bathrooms. And the corridors were full of people trying to buy, sell or steal influence.
Woman of the people: Jennifer visiting New Vision newsroom 2017
Jennifer soon put a stop to of that and, like Jesus throwing money lenders and vendors out of a temple, she threw all those hangers-on out.
She also recovered many of KCCA's properties, including a house the former Mayor, Nasser Sebaggala, claimed he had sold to himself. When he refused to hand it over, she had him forcefully evicted.
Jennifer Musisi at the launch of Kira Road 2017
Another very public confrontation was with General Tinyenfunza, who had turned a KCCA building into an intelligence headquarters of sorts. Confronting an army general? That had never been heard of in Kampala, and we waited with abated breath what would happen to her, especially after he said on TV that, "I will arrest that woman".
But in the end, it was the General that blinked first, and barely two months after taking office, Jennifer was the talk of the town. Then she took on the embedded corruption in KCCA, where she found more than 150 different accounts no one had known about, with more than $13m (sh45bn).
A relaxed Jennifer in her office at KCCA 2014
That was more than what the authority was collecting in annual revenue. She closed them all. By the time she left office, she had instituted a ‘cashless' system, where nobody lined up at KCCA offices to pay taxes or fees but did everything remotely.
She also took on the mighty UTODA (Uganda Taxi Owners and Drivers Association), which regularly held the country to ransom whenever attempts were made to bring order to the taxi industry. But they were no match to Jennifer, and they too blinked and went into oblivion. Street vendors were next, and they too were brought to order.
'If I had 1,000 Jennifers Uganda would a fine place"; President Museveni and Jennifer Musisi touring repair works on Kampala City roads, June 2011
After just one year in office, Kampala had started looking like a real city. Impressed with what Jennifer had done, President Museveni declared, on Women's Day in 2012, that if he had 1,000 Jennifers, Uganda would be a very fine country, indeed.
But under all the veneer of successes, there were problems. In cleaning up KCCA, she had stepped on many toes, and regularly received threats to her life. One time a grenade was placed under her car, but it was rendered safe by security.
Jennifer Musisi's car at the Kampala Carnival 2015
There were also issues with budget cuts, which meant she could not fulfill the plans she had made. But because the KCCA was now run in a transparent way, many donor bodies wanted to work with her. With Government funding becoming less and less forthcoming, she nevertheless got funding for various city projects.
Than there were the very public disagreements with the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, a fellow lawyer. He insisted that as the political head of the city, he had final authority, but she largely ignored him.
Jennifer Musisi at the Kampala Carnival 2015
That impasse was never really resolved, although, with the new KCCA Act, the Lord Mayor's role is now what Jennifer had always said, to wear the ceremonial robes and smile for the cameras.
And one battle she failed to win was the effort to get back Centenary Park, mainly due to the intervention of then trade minister, Amelia Kyambadde. Although Kyambadde would later apologize to Jennifer, the fate of Centenary Park still remains in balance.
But in the end, it was politics that put paid to her efforts to make Kampala a real city. She was publically blamed for the ruling party's poor showing in the 2016 elections and, as strong Christian as she is must have seen the writing on the wall. So she jumped before she could be pushed.
But now, without Jennifer at the helm, the potholes are everywhere, even Kololo; the vendors are back on the streets, and Kampala Road looks like downtown Kampala.
One year after Jennifer left.